The Italian language is not only renowned for its melodic words but also for the hand gestures that accompany them. About 250 hand gestures have been identified and are used by Italians on a daily basis. Naturally, the question arises: where does this unique custom come from?
Theories suggest that the iconic hand gestures are a result of a long history of Italy being invaded by many nations that imposed their languages, cultures and mannerisms. From the Ancient Greek colonization along the Mediterranean coast to subsequent invasions by the Carolingians, Normans, Visigoths, Arabs and Germans, these hand gestures developed as a means of communication among people with no common language – and have stuck around ever since.
There is a vast variety of hand gestures, but here are the top 8 recommendations which may come in handy when you want to add emphasis to what you are communicating in Italian.
Non Mi Interessa (“I don’t care”)
One of the most famous gestures, the so-called “chin flick” means “Non mi interessa!” – I don’t care, and is formed by flicking the back of one’s fingers under the chin.
L’Ombrello (“Absolutely not!”)
L’ombrello (“the umbrella”) is a common gesture which mimics hanging an umbrella on a hook. This is a “colourful” (and rather rude) way to tell people to get lost if they ask for huge favours, like borrowing money. Considered uncouth.
Occhio (“watch out”)
This is a warning gesture, meaning ‘STAI ATTENTO’, “beware” or “watch out”. It is performed by lightly placing the index tip on the cheekbone under the eye and pulling slightly to open up the eye a little wider.
Così Così (So and So)
This gesture is used to communicate when something hasn’t quite hit the mark. It is performed by alternatively turning the hand palm up and palm down. If you are asked whether you like a meal, a movie or anything else, and you are quite unimpressed this is a great non-verbal way to express it.
Ma va va (“Get lost”)
This usually involves an outstretched arm that is chopped up and down, the message is unequivocal: “Get lost.” It’s commonly used, and once the irony of the gesture is mastered, feel free to deploy it at will! But be warned, it can turn nasty – particularly when the swinging arm looks as if it’s about to turn into a slap.
Si vabbe’! (“yeah, right!”)
This mocking gesture is used to express mistrust in someone who is exaggerating or making up a story. It involves the movement of the forearm in circles accompanied by raised eyebrows and bottom jaw slightly pulled down.
Mi stai qui (“I can’t stand you”)
While this gesture involves a forearm held horizontally against the stomach, it’s neither a gesture expressing hunger nor an invitation to lunch. It simply means: “I can’t stand you.”
Che Capolavoro! (“What a masterpiece!”)
Last but not least is the gesture which has become the symbol of Italian-level quality. When someone puts their 5 fingertips together and brings them to their mouth for a symbolic kiss you know you have outdone yourself. This is the best way to show appreciation when words aren’t enough. Usually used in relation to food, it can be used in any context expressing appreciation for a true masterpiece, or as the Italians would say – UN VERO CAPOLAVORO!